Something I didn’t realize about Israel is that it looks differently than I imagined in my head. About 2,000 years have passed since Jesus lived there, but I thought somehow it would look the same. When we arrived in Tel Aviv, Israel’s capital city, it surprised me to see the modern homes and buildings. “Okay, Lord,” I prayed. “Help me see you as Jesus saw you while He was here.”
God brought me to Nazareth.
Nazareth is just as modern as the other cities, but within it is a site called Nazareth Village. Nazareth Village is a restored first-century farm and village, depicting what life would have looked like in Jesus’s day. Complete with olive trees, shepherds, sheep and a first-century synagogue, this site was my first real glimpse into the historic Holy Land.
Of course, Jesus captured my heart through a person I met there. As we walked through the village, a wonderful tour guide shared history and visual representations of Jesus’s life. At one point, we saw a first-century wine press. Our guide recited a parable — “A man planted a vineyard and put a wall around it, and dug a wine press, and built a tower, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey” (Matthew 21:33). Nearby where we stood, archaeologists had discovered a tower nearby this very wine press. Our guide explained that Jesus often taught the people using concepts they knew. Rocks, soil, thorns, vineyards and the like. She said if Jesus came here today, He’d probably use stories about iPhones and iPads to teach us about His Kingdom. The more we understand first-century history and culture, the more we can comprehend how God’s Word translates to us today.
This moment was also the moment I realized I am standing where Jesus stood. Our guide said Jesus lived about 10 minutes away, so He likely walked on the very rocks we were standing on. As I looked down and out at the surroundings, I gasped. I am where Jesus was. I am in Israel. This is real.
God is so gracious. Up until this point, a combination of sinus problems and jet lag caused me to be quite a grump. I wrapped myself up in a coat of self-pity and kept looking inward. This moment, however, transcended my physical and emotional state. God broke through. He reminded me of what’s really important. He had given me the gift of Israel and I was missing it. Well, I wasn’t going to miss it anymore. “Jesus, I’m sorry I’ve been missing it. I’m ready. Open my eyes,” I prayed.
We walked into the Nazareth Village synagogue and sat down for a time of devotion. Pastor Gerad began reading. “Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read and the scroll of Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:16–21). Jesus came to love us. To free us. To heal our broken hearts. To help us see. To give us hope. His entire reason for being is wrapped in love.
Then our guide came forward to speak. In this tiny synagogue in Nazareth Village, she reminded us of the light we have inside of us — Jesus, dwelling in us — the light of deep love that the world is searching for. What a great privilege and what a great responsibility. Her words were thick and laced with love.
On our way out of the village, she gave each of us an oil lamp as a reminder of Jesus’s light within us to love the world. “No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house” (Matthew 5:15). I picked up the small oil lamp and with tears streaming down my cheeks, I thanked her for reminding me who Jesus truly is.